The Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park are the two animal sanctuaries managed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). They’re definitely not your usual animal attractions.
The Zoo Has Amazing Conservation Programs
The Edinburgh Zoo hardly feels like a zoo; more like an animal conservation center. Many of their animals are endangered and the zoo works with other zoological societies to find mates for the animals. One of their biggest programs is called the Budongo Trail. This is a facility built to house up to 40 chimpanzees at a time while providing zoologists the ability to research the animals. The RZSS also has a team in the Budongo Forest in Uganda to help with the conservation works there, which is just one of the dozens of conservation programs they manage or partner with all around the world.
The Highland Wildlife Park Breeds Endangered Species
The Highland Wildlife Park exists primarily for breeding, and some portions of the reserve are not even open to visitors, allowing the animals to breed with minimal human interaction. Some of their animals include the polar bear, Amur tiger (formerly known as the Siberian tiger, but they’re now extinct in Siberia), Scottish wildcat and snow leopard. So far this year, the park has seen 48 births, the newest of which are three of the most adorable snow leopard cubs you could ever imagine. We spent most of our time there watching one of the cubs play about with his mother.
The Edinburgh Zoo Has Penguins and Pandas
Perhaps the top two animal attractions at the Edinburgh Zoo are the penguins and pandas. The penguins were part of the original group of animals at the zoo when it opened in 1913, and it was the first time these birds were seen north of the equator. There’s an interesting story where a zookeeper left the penguin gate open one day back in 1952 and the penguins followed him out. Since that day, it’s been a tradition to parade the penguins around in the afternoon…if they want to come. No activities from the animals are ever forced.
The Edinburgh Zoo is one of only 27 zoos in the world that currently houses pandas. The collective conservation works successfully moved the panda from endangered to vulnerable in 2016, and the Edinburgh Zoo hopes to do its part by producing a cub before they have to return the pandas to China in 2021.
Both Attractions Use the Raw, Beautiful Landscape of Scotland
The Edinburgh Zoo is located on Corstorphine Hill on the west side of Edinburgh. While some of the attractions are tailor-built to emulate the animal’s natural habitat, the hill is still very similar to the other green spaces of Edinburgh. Similarly, the Highland Wildlife Park is located in the Cairngorm National Forest and uses the raw, rugged terrain to house the animals. Only a few additional features have been built, such as ponds for the polar bears, climbing apparatus for the tiger, red panda and wolverines, etc.
You Get to Interact with the Animals in a Natural Setting
There are four parts of the Edinburgh Zoo where you can walk through the animal enclosure – wallabies, lemurs, pelicans and monkeys. While the animals could interact with you if they wanted to, nothing is enforced and they rarely do. It’s just nice to be able to get up close to the animals without a fence between you and them. At the Highland Wildlife Park, there is a small safari road you can drive through in the park to see the Przewalski horses, red and Bukhara deer, vicuna, European elk, and European bison. You can’t get out of your car, but the animals are likely to come right up beside you for a photo opportunity.
Having toured both attractions, all I can say is I can’t wait to go back. I might have to get an annual pass for the times I’m in Scotland, as I can’t wait to see the animals again…especially those that were sleeping during my visits, such as the pandas.